Worst Air Travel Delays
With hundreds of thousands of flights taking off and landing around the world each day, there are bound to be some issues.
Of course, actual plane crashes are incredibly rare. But today’s air travelers do have to worry about cancellations and delays, as flights can be disrupted by changes in the weather, airplane maintenance problems and other unpredictable elements (like unruly passengers or, yes, smelly service animals).
Though we’ve probably all experienced slight delays of an hour or two, some passengers have endured actual air travel nightmares — delays of more than 30 hours, in some instances!
The following worst-of-the-worst delays, caused by everything from swarms of bees to missing toilet paper, will make you grateful for the travel woes you’ve experienced.
12 Hours in Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airlines passengers traveling from Abu Dhabi to San Francisco were in for a real treat in January 2015 when they were forced to wait on the tarmac for 12 hours due to fog. Because the flight itself was also so long, they ended up spending a miserable 28 hours stuck on the plane.
But of course, it wasn’t just the delay that infuriated passengers — it was the confusing and potentially misleading information they got from crew members about when the plane would finally take off. They also weren’t allowed to get off the plane and weren’t immediately provided with food or water, according to passengers.
The airline later apologized but said that “extraordinary weather conditions” were to blame for the delay.
We're guessing that was cold comfort to the travelers who endured the nightmare.
8 Hours at JFK
Imagine taking a much-needed vacation to sunny Cancun in the dead of winter in New York City. That’s what passengers on JetBlue Airways Flight 751 were eagerly anticipating in February 2007.
And then the chaos started.
A winter storm stranded the plane at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for eight hours. Since there were no gates available for the plane to use to let passengers offload and return to the terminal, they were stuck on the tarmac from a little before 8 a.m. until after 4 p.m. At some points, the plane’s wheels were frozen to the ground.
Passengers reported not getting any food or water until at least four hours into the delay, even though some people on board were diabetic. The airline eventually offered a full refund and a free round-trip flight to those on board.
Too little, too late.
4 Hours in London
One teeny, tiny, squeaky passenger caused a four-hour delay on a British Airways flight from London to San Francisco — a mouse! While it’s pretty funny now, it likely wasn’t all that comical to the passengers whose flight was delayed for hours.
Someone spotted a rodent on the flight before take off, which meant that the airline had to ask for a replacement airplane. Mice can reportedly chew on the wiring in airplanes (as they can with cars), so the airline thought it safest to dispatch a new aircraft.
While the delay was annoying, the airline at least had a little bit of fun with the media attention the story got: “With service and prices this good, we know almost everyone wants to fly with us to San Francisco, but on this occasion there was one very small customer who we had to send back to the gate,” a spokesperson said.
10 hours in Detroit
In a massive bungle in 1999, some 7,000 passengers on various Northwest Airlines flights were stranded on the tarmac in Detroit — some for up to 10 hours.
It was New Year’s weekend and a blizzard blew through Detroit, unloading 12 inches of snow on the city and the airport. Despite all that, the airline decided to keep flying in and out of Detroit, even while other airlines canceled flights. The result, as you might guess, was nearly catastrophic.
Dozens of planes were stuck on the ground with varying problems — some passengers got no food or water, while others couldn’t use an airplane’s toilets because they broke.
In the end, the airline agreed to pay $7.1 million to the affected travelers as part of a settlement deal — each person reportedly got between $1,000 and $2,500 for the ordeal. So maybe this one was worth the agony.
2 Days in Anchorage
Travelers on United Airlines Flight 857 could’ve done some unexpected sightseeing on a March 2012 flight to Shanghai, except they were stuck in flight limbo — big time.
Their flight left San Francisco on Sunday afternoon headed for Shanghai, a trip that normally takes 13 hours. But a few hours into the flight, the pilot diverted the plane to Anchorage because several toilets on board were broken. Once in Anchorage, the travel nightmare began. Passengers reported sitting on the tarmac for an hour and a half, then in a secure area at the airport for four hours.
When the flight was eventually canceled, they waited for hours to get meal and hotel vouchers and couldn’t access their clothing or medications in their luggage. On Monday, a new plane was scheduled to take them to Shanghai, but it also broke down.
They were finally able to leave on Tuesday.
3 Hours In Hyderabad
Sometimes, air travel just plain stinks — literally.
Passengers and crew members aboard SpiceJet flight 192, which was traveling from Bangalore to Delhi in March 2017, could not stand the smell coming from the plane’s bathroom. The smell was so bad the plane had to be diverted to Hyderabad, just 500 miles into the journey. Once there, everyone got off the plane and waited for three hours while crews cleaned the bathroom and the cockpit.
It’s not entirely clear what caused the smell, but it sure seems like a three-hour delay is a small price to pay for breathing clean air in such close quarters.
9 Hours in California
Because of dense fog, a TACA International Airlines flight from El Salvador to Los Angeles in December 2008 had to be diverted to Ontario (the city in California, not the Canadian province) — and there it stayed for nine hours.
Drinking water was scarce, passengers complained of medical issues and use of the toilets was sporadic at best, according to passenger accounts. The plane left El Salvador on Sunday, spent the night in Ontario and finally arrived in Los Angeles a total of 14 hours later.
When a Los Angeles newspaper reporter tried to sort the whole mess out, he got conflicting reports from the airline and the airport as to why the passengers weren’t allowed off the airplane. At one point, police cars reportedly surrounded the aircraft, with no explanation given to travelers.
That’s not alarming at all...
33 Hours in Las Vegas
It’s hard to even fathom a 33-hour flight delay, but that’s what nearly a hundred travelers experienced in April 2015 as they tried to reach London on a Virgin Atlantic flight. The flight was scheduled to leave Las Vegas at 4:30 p.m. Monday and didn’t depart until Wednesday morning.
There was a whole slew of reasons for the delay — issues with the air conditioning, then problems with the plane’s rudder, then high winds that prevented repairs. Though the airline put passengers up in a hotel on Monday night, they were forced to sleep in the terminal on Tuesday night during the delays.
Passengers described the whole ordeal as “excruciating” and a “nightmare.” Which sounds pretty accurate.
15 Hours in Newfoundland
More than 200 people were forced to spend the night in a cold airplane after a passenger became ill in January 2019. The plane was heading from Newark, New Jersey, to Hong Kong. But when a passenger started having a seizure, the plane made an emergency landing in Newfoundland, Canada.
Things got worse from there.
While medical personnel were able to escort the man off the plane, the rest of the passengers were forced to stay put. There were no customs staffers working since the plane arrived at night. Plus, one of the cabin doors was frozen and needed repairing, so the flight couldn’t continue on to Hong Kong.
The weather was terrible that night, with a temperature of -25 degrees Fahrenheit and a windchill of -65. There was heat on the plane, but passengers still reported being cold.
A rescue airplane eventually arrived to transport the stranded passengers, some 27 hours after they initially took off.
12 Hours in Alaska
Is there anything more terrifying than being told your plane has to make an emergency landing because of a potential engine issue? How about that plus experiencing a long, long delay?
That’s exactly what happened to passengers on board Delta flight 128, which was traveling from Beijing to Seattle in December 2018.
The plane made an emergency landing at Eareckson Air Station on Shemya Island, a remote part of the Aleutian Island chain off the Alaskan Coast. The 194 passengers on board were stuck on the plane for more than 12 hours until another plane could be sent to rescue them. It’s not clear exactly what was wrong with the initial plane’s engine (though one passenger tweeted that the plane “lost one engine”), but it was put back into service not long after the incident.
4 Hours in Halifax
OK, this isn't one of the longest flight delays of all time, but it’s certainly one of the weirdest (and funniest, if you weren’t aboard the delayed flight!). A cat — yes, just a regular house cat — caused a four-hour delay on an Air Canada flight between Halifax and Toronto in January 2012.
How does this happen? The owner, Debbie Harris, took the cat out of his carrier while going through security. When she put him back in, she forgot to latch the carrier completely.
The cat, named Ripples, escaped from his carrier and began running up and down the aisle. Passengers in the first-class section tried to catch him, but he made it into the cockpit. The 10-year-old cat hunkered down inside a small wiring compartment — and no one could get him out. Everyone had to get off the plane while crew members dismantled the compartment and grabbed Ripples.
4 Hours in Miami
Sometimes Mother Nature likes to remind us who’s really in charge here. Case in point: A swarm of bees caused a four-hour flight delay at Miami International Airport in March 2017.
Thousands of the insects clung to the side of an American Airlines plane traveling to New York City. The airline alerted the county, which eventually sent over a beekeeper to safely remove the bees from the plane (they were in the cargo load area, which meant employees couldn’t safely load bags on board).
Passengers got snacks and drinks during the delay and didn’t seem too perturbed — some even joked that they wanted some honey in exchange for waiting.
28 Hours in Liverpool
Some 170 people were supposed to leave Sunday evening from Liverpool aboard Wizz Air flight W62512. But “unscheduled maintenance” issues meant that they couldn’t board the plane at all and had to be put up in a hotel overnight.
They didn’t leave until about 9:30 p.m. Monday night, 28 hours later. Several passengers took to Twitter to complain — one woman feared she would miss her brother’s birthday, while another worried about missing his 5-year-old child’s birthday.
Lesson learned: That’s why you should always try to give yourself a travel-disaster buffer ahead of important events!
30 Hours in Buffalo
Travelers aboard Alaska Airlines flight 1367 experienced what sounds like a complete mess in January 2019 — the delays just kept coming. First, they waited two hours on the ground in Boston before departing for Los Angeles, Then, their flight made an emergency landing in Buffalo because of an electrical burning smell.
Once in Buffalo, they spent the night stranded in an airport waiting area with little information (at one point, passengers said the entire flight crew deserted the area, leaving them alone and confused). Then they were flown back to Boston, where they had to wait all day for new flights to Los Angeles — and many arrived without their checked bags.
We’re exhausted just reading about this trip!
5 Hours in London
File this under “strangest reasons for long flight delays.” A British Airways flight from London to Barbados was delayed for five hours because there wasn’t enough toilet paper on board. Yes, you read that right — toilet paper delayed a plane.
OK, it wasn’t just toilet paper — the plane was also apparently missing things like headphones and cleaning solutions. “We are sorry customers were delayed after some of the many items needed for the flight weren’t loaded onto the aircraft,” a spokesperson for the airline said, adding that they provided passengers with refreshment vouchers for food and beverages inside the terminal to make up for the lengthy delay.
Of all the things you really want to be on your airplane, toilet paper sure seems like one of them.